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Lethal Weapon

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

The first action you must take after achieving your black belt is to register your hands as lethal weapons. It’s you civic duty to inform society how dangerous you are.

I remember the day I did. It was a horribly miserable August afternoon. Bleeding, bruised, and covered in dirt, from already enduring a twelve hour test, I was standing in the middle of a field with ten Eagle Claw masters circled around me. At once, all ten warriors attacked me for the final phase of my black belt exam.

Moving with the grace of a ballet dancer, my hands and feet shot out like exploding grenades. I moved faster than the wind. Within seconds, my opponents were eating grass and begging their master not to make them attack again. I stared at the master, showed him my mantis claw. He ran away, leaving his injured students behind. My Sifu was so impressed with my ability he told me to go immediately to the police station and register my hands.

Arriving at police headquarters, I informed them of my lethalness. Out of nowhere, this huge cop grabs me and tries to throw me down.

How silly of him.

Careful not to injure the officer, I made sure he landed on top of his desk instead of the floor when I flipped him using the secret tiger leaps from mountain and kills pregnant antelope technique. The entire department gasped in awe as the big man sailed over my shoulder. The officer who attacked me rolled off his desk and offered a handshake. Said he did that as a test to everyone who comes in to register their hands. I nodded, smiled, adjusted my new black belt, and shook his hand.

From there, officers led me down a dark narrow hallway. They blindfolded me, pushed me into a room that smelled of gunpowder and burnt rubber and locked the door. I could hear water dripping somewhere. Though completely blind, I sensed others in the room. I drew a deep breath and centered my chi as I prepared to use the blind monk escapes the cave and attacks one-legged merchant in village technique. I quickly exhaled. I was now one with the room.

For the next seven hours, I went through a series of grueling tests that involved handcuffs, shotguns, tennis balls, ninja stars, smoke bombs, Taser guns, and a live goat.

At the conclusion, the chief of police said he was sure glad I was one of the good guys, but being that he’d never seen anyone as amazing as me, I needed to register my hands and feet. I agreed. Just registering my hands wasn’t being totally honest. With my killer kicks, I actually equaled two lethal weapons.

I filled out the proper forms, swore in before the judge of my lethalness, took the oath only to use kung fu when in danger, and was issued the official Lethal Weapon card. (Only Mel Gibson and I carry multiple lethal weapon cards). The police even gave me a small badge that I must wear whenever I’m in public that informs people that I’m a hands-registered black belt.

Of course, the story above is false-well; some parts of it-but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked if a person must register their hands once they become a black belt.

The answer is an absolute NO. Registering your hands is an urban legend, a Hollywood myth. There is no such registry and research has failed to reveal any statutory, regulatory, or other requirements that boxers or martial artists must register their hands.

I did read, however, of several court cases where jurors considered a defendant’s MA or boxing experience when deciding the outcome of their case. In 1988, (Wyo. 1988) the Wyoming Supreme Court convicted a man of aggravated assault for punching someone in the head. The defendant’s training in boxing supported the jury’s findings on his mental state. I also discovered a website where you can pay $34.95 to register your hands with this company. I wish I’d thought of that marketing idea.

Bottom Line: As martial artists, the courts hold us to a higher standard than regular civilians, as we should be. Discipline and control is the cornerstone of martial arts. Just use common sense. If you are at the grocery store and a guy bumps into you, don’t break his leg. However if someone is in your home to kill, steal, or destroy, then all bets are off.      You unleash on them.

That goes for terrorists attacking you on a plane. I have no problem using the kung fu master completely decimates the lunatic screaming “death to infidels” technique.

Key Words

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Ninety-five percent of the time, I keep a positive attitude and try to focus on the good things in life. Recently however, I learned of a situation that reminded me of just how wicked this world is.

The incident was between two second-graders, a boy and a girl. (Keep in mind as I tell you this, these kids are only SEVEN years old). At the lunch table, the boy asked the little girl to marry him . . . so that he could have sex with her. She said no!

Later that afternoon, he asked the same question; same answer from her, he says think about or you’ll be sorry. Next day, same happens, this time in the classroom. She says no, and the boy says, “I’m gonna tie a rock to your head and rip out your hair for saying no.” She tells the teacher Boy is bothering her, and teacher tells her to ignore him.

Following day, again in the lunchroom, the cycle continues but this time it gets physical. Boy grabs girl from behind and squeezes her. She screams STOP, tells the teacher Boy is bothering her, teacher says ignore him. Back in the classroom, Boy threatens Girl again, this time in a much more violent way with extremely graphic details. So much so, that I was too uncomfortable writing it here. Girl quickly backs away from him and threatens to tell her daddy. Boy says that he’ll just chop off the daddy’s head.

Girl did tell her parents, and after parent/teacher/principal conference, the incident was investigated. Turns out, a neighbor of the family had abused the little boy.

Evil begets evil.

More girls came forward with similar stories about Boy. Boy was removed from school for a week and assigned to a different classroom, with the requirement of seeing a counselor.

You’re probably saying, “What’s the teacher’s problem. Why didn’t she do something when Girl told?” In her defense, second-graders tattle on each other about a thousand times per day, and the girl only said bothering me.

Hearing about all this, I learned that there are certain KEY words a child must use to let the teacher know the situation is serious. Inform your children to use words, nasty, sex, serious, threatening, and or say, “so-n-so is talking about hurting me with a weapon”, “so-n-so touched me in a private spot” or “he’s saying stuff about naked people.”

I know, it’s not words we as parents necessarily want to discuss with our small children, but as the above story proves, society forces our hand. It’s our job to protect them however we can. Girl did involve her parents and that was absolutely the right action.

Please encourage your children to tell you things. It could save their little life.

Committed or Interested?

Monday, November 16th, 2009

There’s a difference between interests and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. – Art Turock

Think about that quote for a moment. It reveals the secret to success.

Commitment.

That’s the answer. Whether for the practice of kung fu, piano, writing, saving money, and even in marriage, consistent, committed practice is the absolute must for triumph.

I found that quote inside Reader’s Digest when I was in college. I guarded it like a cherished proverb and kept it crumpled inside my wallet for years. In ’96 when TKFF opened its doors, I drove a thumbtack through it and it has since yellowed on my office wall. Over the years, Turock’s quote has both inspired me and haunted me. In times of waning endurance, the words fueled my stamina. Other times, I wish I’d never read the beast.

One rainy December day I was to meet Sifu Fogg at the park for a training session to prepare me for my Sifu test coming up that summer. The high was 25, the wind chill 18, and the freezing sleet sliced through your coat and skin. I was so relieved when he canceled due to the weather but he reminded me that I could still train, “because I was young and the cold was good for me.”

Great. Just what I wanted to hear. I pulled the blanket over my head with no intentions of going outside when Turock’s words stung my psyche more than the sleet outside would sting my exposed skin.

Committed or Interested? I asked myself. I threw back the wool blanket, got dressed, and ran to the park.
Consider this bit of info shared by Karen Eden in Ma SUCCESS magazine, December 2009 issue. She states:

• For every 10,000 who sign up for martial arts, fifty-percent quit the first month.
• The remaining 5,000, half will drop in the second month.
• 1,000 will go six months / 500 will go a year.
• 100 students will go two years.
• 3 will receive 1st degree-black level.
• ONLY ONE of 10,000 will become a master instructor.

That’s amazing stuff! Does everyone want to be a master instructor? Of course not, but you understand the pattern. Commitment equals success. What are your goals? Will you achieve them? Will I?

Committed or Interested. Which are you?

Veteran’s Day

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

I was ready to post on the topic of learning to fight without learning the numerous forms associated with Mantis KF, when the following hit me. (Will discuss the forms topic soon)

As I post this, the morning rain outside my window is pounding everything in its path. The creek running alongside my house is beginning to flood my front yard and strong winds force huge pines to bow. The sky is a purplish gray. I’m cold.

I find myself wishing for a sunny day, feeling down only because of the weather.

That’s when I notice the date.

November 11.

How selfish and spoiled I am. Here I sit, completely protected from the elements, writing on a computer, when thousands of United States Soldiers are carrying out their duties despite the weather. I watch the rain.

I can’t imagine sleeping on desert floors in 150 degrees as sand granules burrow their way into every cell of my body and mortar rounds hum through the night. Nor could I run through jungles with snakes and snipers ready to kill me.

I can’t imagine flying a jet with a MIG on my tail, or being aboard a ship with huge waves crashing against the hull pelting my face with salt water, soaking my clothes, while enemy subs hope to blow me up.

I can’t imagine fast-roping from a Blackhawk as men, women, and children fire their A-K 47’s at me, or being on a four-man special ops team, dropped off in the black of night a mile away from my target, swimming in shark infested waters only then to crawl through dense tropical forest to infiltrate terrorists’ camps.

I can’t imagine going through all of that and then Americans, the people I so proudly swore to protect and to defend, treat me as a leper when I return.

But you know what? I don’t have to imagine any of that. The United States Soldier has already done it for me . . . for real. These men and women do this day after day because they see the bigger picture. They understand the threat.

U.S. Soldiers are the epitome of servant hood. They love this country and we should love them.

The storm has intensified outside but suddenly, I feel warm, safe.

Thank God for you Veterans. Happy November 11.

Karate: The Way of Elvis

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

People often ask me if Kung Fu, or specifically mantis, is the only martial art I’ve done. My initial response is yes. I’ve practiced Mantis exclusively since 1982.

However, before I found the Fu, I found Karate . . . Elvis Style!

When I was six, I watched this huge man shatter a brick with his fists at a park demonstration, advertising for a weeklong, beginner Karate camp. I begged and my parents signed me up. I fell asleep that night, excited about breaking that brick.

At 8:45 the next morning, sixteen kids ages six to twelve, and parents, lined up outside the community center. Class was to begin at 9:00. By 9:20, the instructor rolled up in a loud, dirty pale yellow Volkswagen Van. Smoke billowed from the tailpipe. He and his ultra-skinny hippy girlfriend got out and walked to the front door. I was confused. This wasn’t the same guy I saw demolish the brick in the park. This guy looked like Elvis. Not the heartthrob of the 50’s Elvis; the slob of the 70’s Elvis.

Wavy black hair, bushy sideburns, gut to his knees. He sported a tight baby blue terry-cloth jogging suit. Coffee stains streaked the front by the zipper and sweat stains ringed the armpits. Shiny white Nikes with a blue stripe covered his feet, unlaced. His girlfriend had stringy blond hair and her long was neck hidden behind colored beads. She wore a green halter-top, short-short cut-off jeans, and was barefooted. Her toenails were painted red, white, and blue. With no apology for his tardiness, Master Elvis said he was the karate teacher. He unlocked the community center door and told our parents what time to be back. Miss Elvis just hummed and laughed a lot, like some imaginary friend was telling her jokes.  

Once inside, he divided us into two lines by height. Some kid asked where the man was who broke the brick. Master Elvis sneered at him, chewed on a toothpick and said the man was just his helper. “I’m the master teacher,” he said. “And today we learn how to punch.”

Cool, I thought. I waited for him to grab one of the bricks stacked next to the door and punch it in two. Instead, the big man stood before us, rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck side to side. Miss Elvis was impressed. She said, “Whoa, baby” every time her big Teddy Bear moved. She sat cross-legged on the floor braiding her hair.

In one smooth move, Master Elvis spit out the toothpick and unzipped his baby blue jacket. More belly fell out, stretching his white undershirt to the max. Kids in the front row gasped and stepped back.

He looked up and lifted his hands as if receiving instructions from Heaven. He started this weird breathing. Everyone got quiet. His massive body swayed. I was afraid he’d fall over and land on the short red-headed kid in the front row. He dropped his hands and stopped sucking the air. He had a scowl on his face like he’d just bitten a pickle dipped in peanut butter. I thought he was getting sick. Suddenly his arms snapped to the sides, his thumb-sized index fingers pointed in each direction. His leg began to twitch. I’d never seen Caine on Kung Fu do this before. A few kids giggled.

Faster than I thought a fat man could move, Master E pulled his arms to his hips, yelled Keeya, and punched the air. The only girl in the group cried. He did this several times and within seconds sweat poured off his round red face.

Master E told us to go find a mattress and punch it until he said stop. He collapsed on a small chair and had a smoke. Half his butt cheeks hung over the sides. Along the wall behind us were rows of pee-stained mattress stacked to the ceiling. I found out later, that on weekends, homeless people slept at the community center. We must’ve moved too slowly to the mattresses because he screamed NOW and we ran for it. The girl cried even more.

I punched the side of a mattress until my hands cramped. One kid cut his knuckles on protruding bedsprings and bled everywhere, and at least three kids fell victim to an avalanche of falling mattresses.

Elvis sat, sweated, and smoked. Miss Elvis braided her hair and hummed California Dreaming by the Mamas & the Papas.

Finally, our master teacher announced he would break a brick using the punching technique that he’d just “taught” us. I just wanted to get away from the filthy beds. My hands stunk.

With the strut of a lone rooster inside chicken pen, Master Elvis walked to the bricks, stacked three on the floor, did his whole Keeya dance-leg twitch-thing, then slammed his fist down.

The brick didn’t budge. He said someone talking, made him lose focus. He tried again. Nothing happened. Three attempts later, the bricks broke and so did Master E’s hand. He wailed curse words, cradled his bleeding hand to his chest. Miss Elvis said, “Whoa, baby”, and ran to his side. Now everyone was crying, including Elvis. He told us to call our parents. Karate camp was over. We raced for the only payphone next to bathrooms.

Miss Elvis wrapped her man’s hand in his baby-blue jogging suit jacket. It turned purple from all the blood. He moaned and stumbled as she helped him to the van. Before he climbed in though, he managed to light another cigarette. She jumped behind the wheel and floored the gas pedal. Void of adult supervision, we just stood there in awe, watching the van skid out of the parking lot.

Elvis had just left the building.

Investing in Loss

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Now when I say, “Learn to invest in loss,” who is willing to do this? To invest in loss is to permit others to use force to attack while you don’t use even the slightest force to defend yourself. On the contrary, you lead an opponent’s force away so that it is useless. ~ Cheng Man-Ching

The two kung fu students faced off ready for a friendly bout. The senior student led with his dominate right side. He knew that his right back-fist combined with his right side-kick were unstoppable.

The younger student also led with his stronger right side but he felt less confident than his opponent; he was wearing a blindfold. His balance unsteady, his sense of direction completely off kilter with no idea of where his classmate was standing. He hoped he didn’t look stupid.

His goal of today’s match was to keep his guard up until he made contact with his si hing (older kung fu brother) then use feel to determine where an opening for a strike or kick may be. Even though the fight was to be slow, this took considerable amounts of concentration.

The instructor said, “Begin.”

The younger, blinded student stood; his hands up waiting to feel his si hing’s arms or legs make light contact – thinking he would then ride his brother’s attacking limbs back in on recoil and simply return the strike.

Faster than a blink, the older kung fu brother lashed out with a back-fist, smashing his younger opponent’s nose, followed by a spinning right side-kick sending him into the brick wall.

The young student collapsed to his knees. He felt like his navel had collided with his spine. He couldn’t breathe. Blood flowed from his nose beneath the blindfold, splattering the floor.

Obviously, the si hing did not practice the “Invest in Loss” discipline. Although he clearly held the advantage in skill as well as eyesight, his intent was to show off his techniques, not help his brother.

In order to master the art of mantis fighting, or any martial arts really, the student MUST invest in loss.

In the example above, the seeing student should make light contact with the blind one such as touch his stomach with a “strike”. Blind student feels he’s been hit, too late to block, so he must yield to the blow then grab the hitter’s arm and slowly counter. This teaches both students: The blind student feels which way his body should move in reaction to the blow and then how to set up a counter move. The seeing student also sees and feels how his opponent reacts to his attack and counters thus teaching him how to move and counter. And on and on it goes.

In the past 14 years of teaching, my kung fu has grown exponentially. Why? Investing in loss. As a Sifu, I must continually invest in loss. What good would it do for me to bust-up my students and then continue the evening lesson as they’re being wheeled out to the ambulance. Neither of us would ever grow.

To paraphrase the great motivational speaker Zig Ziggler, “Help enough people achieve their dreams and goals, and yours will be achieved as well.”

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – El Final

Monday, July 13th, 2009

…Oh crap! I’ve only sparred in class twice and now I’m about to fight Ranger J.J. McQuade.

Miraculously I stood. My hands were at my side, feeling like concrete. My knees wobbled. I dragged my legs across the black line into the ring. I walked like a Zombie. I should’ve been praying, meditating or something as I struggled to a fighting stance. Instead, my mind raced to a story Sifu Fogg had once told me. He said he and Chuck had sparred at Mr. Norris’ home in California back in the 70’s. Sifu said he won. I swallowed and chewed my mouthpiece. Now it all made sense. Chuck commissioned Mr. Clone to Baton Rouge on a revenge mission. Take me out as an example. NOBODY defeats Chuck Norris. I was a dead man.

Judge said go. Chuck Clone smiled. Spit dripped off his chewed-up black mouthpiece. He looked like the devil. He began to circle me. I wanted to turn with him but my body wouldn’t work. He charged with a ridge hand. I thought of ducking but I moved with the agility of a dead cat. I felt the impact from the blow then my feet left the ground. I heard the roar of the crowd as I tumbled through the air. From what others told me, it was beautiful, especially the way my body cartwheeled across the gym floor. Chuck Clone had followed the ridge hand with a spinning hook kick to the back of my head. As I tumbled out of the ring, I thought of Sifu, John, my other classmates. I had let them down; then I though of Rocky. His words to Mr. T, “Come on. You’re not so bad. You ain’t nothin’.” A rush of adrenaline flooded my muscles. I rolled to my feet. Chuck Clone was going down.

I spun around, charged the ring, but Clone wasn’t there. He was already on the sidelines, surrounded by judges and awestruck fans. I was nothing but a forgotten casualty.

It turned out that Chuck Clone was actually a nice guy. He was a student of one of Mr. Norris’ last operating schools, and he’d been an extra on some of Chuck’s movies. None of my KF brothers saw the fight so on the way home I exaggerated a little to make me not look too bad.

Overall, it was a great experience. I learned to face my fear, and I learned of the enormous power of suggestion. The simple fact that Mr. Clone had Chuck Norris Fighting System stitched on his gi made him a giant in my eyes. He also had the skills to back it up, another lesson learned.

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Tres

Friday, July 10th, 2009

…”Competitors,” a voice boomed over the PA, “we don’t have enough fighters in each rank to merit a contest so we will mix all belt ranks divided only by age. Please listen for your name.”

Several competitors cheered, others booed. I wanted to throw-up. The great PA voice in the sky had just announced that I might have to rumble with Chuck Clone. I shot a glance at him. He was pulling on his war-ravaged headgear. Two loose strips of tape flapped side to side. He was smiling the way I’m sure Goliath did when he went out to battle David. I had the feeling, though, that this giant-story was going to have a very different ending. I frantically searched the crowd for John and my other teammates. I needed backup. They were competing in other divisions.

“Jones,” the great PA said, “have a seat on the line.” I sat cross-legged on the black line of the gym floor and sized up my competition. There were nine fighters. Two while belts, four green, one red, a purple (whatever that is) and Chuck Clone. All of us supposedly under 19 but I swear they looked 40. I was so nervous I put my sparring boots on the wrong feet and forgot to lace up my gloves. My mouthpiece was suffocating me. I fought the urge to bolt, or to shout Wait! You have the wrong guy. I’m not worthy to represent the U.S. Kung Fu Exchange! Instead, I sat there and re-taught myself how to breathe.

Since so few fighters, the event was supposed to be set up like king of the mountain. Whoever won the bout continued to fight, but the judges already knew who’d win, so the event turned into “let’s watch Mighty Chuck Clone destroy these weak worthless earthlings”.

All grew quiet.

The judge cleared his throat, looked at the roster. I was the newest. I figured I’d be first. My head felt a hundred degrees. Salty sweat singed my eyes. The room began to tilt. My muscles twitched like I was strapped to a metal chair being torture shocked. I started to stand but the great PA voice saved me–only for a moment.

Out of pure diabolical pleasure, the judges ordered white belts to go last. Sure, allow the lambs to watch the lion eat their parents first. I grew more nauseated with each round. Chuck Clone was incredible. Purple Boy lunged at him with a snap kick. Faster than I could blink, Chuck Clone spun and drove a back kick into Purple Boy’s gut, knocking him out of the ring so hard he refused to come back. The Green Boys did worse. They moved in slow motion compared to Mr. Clone. From one agonizing round to the next, they were either swept, flipped, kicked, or all three, out of the ring without landing a blow. The crowd went crazy. I was afraid my bowels would do the same. Please somebody take this dude out!

Red Man stood, pounding his fists into his palms and bobbing his head side-to-side. I had hope for Red Man. He was bigger, meaner looking, had some wicked dragon design on his gi. He threw one punch. I held my breath. Chuck Clone ducked. Red Man dropped unconscious. The bout lasted 15 seconds. I didn’t even see what he did. The audience sprang to their feet. Chuck Clone was indestructible. No wonder Mr. Norris sent him. The two other white belts reluctantly stood. They stared at the floor with their shoulders slumped. One by one, they stepped into the ring then flew back out, headfirst.

My turn…

* * *

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Dos

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

…We demonstrated five more techniques and won first place. Great start to a first tournament. John and I went separate ways, and since I was a rookie, I entered white belt division.

It was during roll call that I first saw him. I did a double take, blinked several times to be sure. I thought that perhaps my euphoric brain, clouded from my recent victory, was playing tricks on me, but as far as I could tell, Chuck Norris was standing ten feet away with his back to me.

I stared in disbelief at the guy with blond hair wearing a starched white gi. He had Chuck Norris Fighting System embroidered in bold black letters on the back of his gi and running down each white pant leg. He was talking and laughing with judges and other competitors. My heart started pounding like an out-of-control jackhammer. My palms went clammy. My stomach butterflies began killing each other. He turned, glanced at me and nodded.

To understand my excitement, you need to know how much of a Chuck fan I was. I had seen every movie enough times to memorize the complete dialogue in each film. Play me a half-second snippet of the movie’s musical score, I could tell you the exact movie. I had every magazine with Chuck on the cover, and I had the HBO showing times of A Force of One, The Octagon, and Eye For An Eye, written on my Sports Illustrated Swim Suit wall calendar. I even lost a girlfriend over a Chuck Norris movie. I took her to see my all-time favorite, Lone Wolf McQuade. I didn’t kiss her during the film and she claimed I ignored her. Well, yeah! You don’t kiss during a Chuck movie. I know, I needed therapy, but I had found my calling through the martial arts, and Chuck Norris represented what I wanted to be at that time.

Once I saw his face, I knew it wasn’t Chuck, but only because of his age. The guy was maybe eighteen and extremely fit. Throw a beard on him, add a few wrinkles around the eyes and you had Chuck. He was wearing black tattered hand pads and matching sparring boots held together with duck tape. He moved through the crowd with confidence and a hint of bravado. Everyone seemed to know him, giving him high-fives, pats on the back. I studied his every move, learning. Though not Chuck, he obviously knew Chuck. I mean the man himself sent this kid to represent the entire Chuck Norris Fighting System. Could you be any better? I wanted to absorb everything I could from this guy.

His headgear dangled from his right hand by its Velcro strap. I instantly thought of Hercules holding Medusa’s head. The black Styrofoam head padding also had wide strips of gray tape covering battle scars. His worn, frayed and faded to ash gray, black belt hung around his waist so naturally I wondered if he ever took it off. Chuck Clone was definitely a tournament veteran. Thank God, I wouldn’t be fighting him…

* * *

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Uno

Monday, July 6th, 2009

As I slid into the back seat of that 1980 Cutlass Supreme at 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday, I had no idea that in five hours I’d come face to face with my greatest hero . . . Chuck Norris.

I hadn’t even been in kung fu for three months, yet here I was with five other students headed to Baton Rouge, LA for our first martial arts tournament. Sifu Fogg had given us a crash course on tournaments for the last several weeks. I don’t remember why this tournament was so important, but I do remember the pain in training for it. Then on the Friday before, Sifu tells us he can’t go. So we were off to Louisiana without a Sifu.

It was late August, 90 degrees before the sun even came up, and the car’s A/C wasn’t the best. The back of my legs stuck to the tan vinyl seats. To beat the heat, I wore my Ocean Pacific tank top, short running shorts, and blue-striped tube socks that climbed to my knees. (Remember, this was the 80’s. Tube socks were cool. Sly even wore them in Rocky III. And if Stallone said tube socks were cool—then tube socks were cool).

Titus, the driver, and proud owner of the Cutlass, was a huge reggae fan. For the three-hundred-plus road trip, we gulped Mountain Dews by the case and bobbed our heads to the syncopated melodies of Bob Marley and others. I truly wanted dreadlocks by the end of the day.

The tournament began at 10. Four wrong turns and two wrong highways later, we arrived at 9:50. We scribbled our names at the registration, rushed to the changing rooms, threw on kung fu clothes, and sprinted to the taped-off section of the gymnasium where we were to compete, doing all this as the tournament director called our names over the PA.

John Cheng and I had entered a “practical self-defense” division. It was an event where you had someone attack you then you showed your stuff by dealing with it. That was the first event and we were scheduled to perform first. (Guess who played the bad-guy.) With no warm-up, we jumped into the center of the ring.

The first technique was to escape a standing chokehold. Due to our tardiness, Cheng and I missed the rules discussion, one of which was to perform the routine slow the first time then fast the second time. I pulled in a quick breath to focus then clutched Cheng’s neck. Already nicknamed “Buzz saw hands” for his incredible speed, Cheng’s left hand shot under my left hand, broke the grip, blasted my temple with his right elbow, rammed a knee into my gut then threw me to the floor. It happened so fast and I hit the gym floor so hard, the crowd actually gasped. The judges rushed to my side, asked if I was OK. I gave them a thumbs-up and sprang to my feet. The previous weeks of intense training with John on full-speed mode had conditioned my body.

After seeing that, officials huddled for a serious pow-wow and decided to bring in a mat for competitors to fall on. They also asked John if he could slow down—three different times…

* * *